Using our memories as a guide

Using our memories as a guide

Parshat Ekev Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

When you look back at the current conflict in Israel, what will you remember? Will it be a focus on the missiles coming into Israel or those going out?  On Iron Dome? The media? International opinion? Israel’s restraint? Israel’s lack of restraint? The United Nations?  Egypt’s attempts at peace? Secretary of State John Kerry’s role? Your family members? Will you focus on the beginning, the end or the middle?

In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, Moses begins a retelling of the wilderness journey, and the focus of the retelling is not on geography but on the interaction between God and the Israelites, specifically the many ways that they disobeyed God. It was Moses’ method of guiding the Israelites’ future (without him) based on the past.

I recently read an article that explains that the way we remember changes the memory. We know that intuitively, of course, as two college roommates recall that story, or two family members speak about that family trip across country when they were growing up.  It turns out that the way we remember is physiologically based. Memories are actually imprinted upon our brains.

So how will we remember the current conflict in Israel?  What will be imprinted on your brain? What will the angle be as you look back over time and solidify your memories?  If learning about history is, in part, to not repeat it, what lessons will be learned?

This is the time to invest in our future memories by understanding and becoming a part of the situation.  

One of the memories I have is being at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Harlam in the Poconos when four Israeli counselors spoke about the situation in Israel.  They told stories of their families, often with tears in their eyes.  It was so hard for them to be away — which, given the safety of camp, was remarkable to hear. They told stories of their army units, some of which were deployed to Gaza and, had they been home, they would have been in Gaza as well. They talked about talking — both to Israelis and to Palestinians to gain further perspective, also a remarkable reaction, a reaction of strength.  

My memories of this conflict will include those four Israelis’ voices. It will include having our daughter in Israel and the way in which I listened to — and for — the news.  I will remember the phone conferences and webinars about the situation and the ups and downs of hopes that the latest truce won’t be broken. I will remember the silence of other nations that did not condemn Israel seemingly because they were just as afraid of Hamas.  

The Israelites’ were told by Moses how to remember their memories; what the “take-aways” were. Time will shape how individual Israelis remember this conflict and what gets imprinted in their memories. For the rest of us, we need to keep listening, asking and reflecting so that the memories that become imprinted on our brains will guide us through the wilderness of our ongoing relationship with Israel.

May peace come soon and be lasting.

Rabbi Barbara Symons is the rabbi of Temple David in Monroeville. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.